Amazon forest fires: ‘Unprecedented’ army operation as 44,000 troops tackle blaze

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Hundreds of new fires continue to decimate Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest tropical forest that spans a huge 5.5 million km2. Some 1,663 new fires were ignited between Thursday and Friday, according to data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE). The raging inferno has prompted an outcry worldwide, as hundreds condemned Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro handling of the crisis and European leaders threatened to tear up a trade deal with South America.

The growing international condemnation prompted the President to call in the army to help combat the fires, mobilising some 44,000 troops.

Defence Minister Fernando Azvedo said the army will be involved in “unprecedented” operations to help extinguish the fires.

He added that the military’s first task will involve the deployment of 700 troops to the area around Porto Velho, Rondonia’s capital, where the military will use two C-130 Hercules aircrafts capable of dumping up to 12,000 litres of water per journey.

The troops will also be sent to nature reserves, indigenous lands and border areas beset by fires.

The Brazilian military operations came after widespread criticism of the Brazilian government.

He had previously accused non-governmental organisations of starting the fires, without providing any evidence, and brushed off claims made by INPE.

Even after announcing he had authorised the use of troops to tackle the blazes, the President attributed the scale of the fires to drier-than-average weather.

But INPE said a large number of wildfires could not be attributed to the dry season or natural phenomena alone.

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European leaders also started to condemn the President’s handling of the crisis, who on Friday threatened to tear up a trade deal with South Africa.

France and Ireland threatened to oppose an EU trade deal struck in June with the regional Mercosur bloc of countries including Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, following Brazil’s response.

French President Emmanuel Macron called for G7 leaders to discuss the environmental crisis in Brazil at a summit this weekend held in the French coastal resort of Biarritz.

In response, Mr Bolsonaro said forest fires “exist in the whole world” and “cannot serve as a pretext for possible international sanctions”.

Celebrities, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Madonna and Lil Nad X, have taken to social media to voice their support.

The Amazon rainforest is home to about three million species of plants and animals and one million indigenous people.

Official figures recorded over 78,000 forest fires in Brazil this year, a surge of 84 percent compared with the same period in 2018.

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